The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, adapted by Crystal S. Chan, with art by SunNeko Lee (Udon Manga Classics, 2015)

Manga Classics buttonsThe Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, adapted by Crystal S. Chan, with art by SunNeko Lee (Udon Manga Classics, 2015) for ages 12 and up

One of the ongoing series of adaptations of Western literary classics that maintains the original’s plot, characterizations, themes, and settings, this take on The Scarlet Letter includes discussion prompts within the volume.

Activities to extend the book’s engagement beyond the structured language arts curriculum, for ages 12 and up, by Francisca Goldsmith

Series 1: Visual and Literary Imagery

Use the visual interpretation of Hawthorne’s novel to explore imagery.

  • Color, especially cultural connotations related to scarlet

See Color Meanings from Around the World. Discuss the common attributes of how else we use shades of red culturally to imply what meanings (e.g., danger).

  • Shaded faces of disapproving villagers when Hester walks among them

See Emoticon Starter Pack 2.0. Discuss the use of metaphor and analogy in pictures of faces as depicted in emoticon apps. Students can design emoticons for characters in the story who hold opinions about Hester based on her status.

  • The clothing worn by main characters, including Hester, Pearl, and Dr. Chillingworth

Share Puritan Clothing from the 1600’s and connect their details to those in the manga version of The Scarlet Letter.

  • The significance of village children stoning Pearl

Discuss bullying, stoning as both a historic and a contemporary capital punishment method, and the Puritan view of children as miniature adults. What do the village children mean by throwing stones at Pearl? How does Hawthorne use this behavior to communicate something about the adults in the story?

  • Depictions of dreams and emotions, including Dimmesdale’s nightmare and Hester’s loneliness felt upon the passing of her parents

Use The Dream Mood Dictionary as an initial resource to consider how these images relate to the story.

See back matter in the volume for more discussions of how metaphors are reinterpreted in this visual presentation of Hawthorne’s story.

Series 2: Visual Representations of Relationships

Use the visual presentation of character relationships to explore these relationships as they facilitate plot development

  • Physical interactions between Reverend Dimmesdale and his daughter at the scaffold as he and Hester meet alone except for her
  • Pearl’s identification of Hester with the visual scarlet letter
  • Facial expressions that telegraph tone, such as Chillingworth’s rapid evolution from crafty to judgmental upon meeting Hester and Pearl at the seaside

See back matter in the volume for more about how relationships have been shown to inform viewers about the characters Hawthorne develops to tell this story.

Series 3: Illustrating Cross Cultural Significance of the Story

Discuss relationships of the following themes as students have experienced them in movies.

  • Format’s adjustment of reader’s viewpoint to take advantage of heightened awareness of hands, lonely spaces, and unfriendly crowds
  • Innocence of childhood with its unawareness of social judgments on those they love, as depicted in Pearl’s identifying of the scarlet letter as a mere part of Hester’s appearance

Discuss how behavior and behavioral norms may or may not be in sync today.

  • Gender inequality and class power inequalities
  • Bullying
  • Techniques of community-sanctioned punishment methods such as stoning, labeling, and the stockade

Series 4: Engaging Students in Creative Responses to the Novel

  1. After reading the original work, students return to the Manga Classics adaptation and write, storyboard or draw an alternative to
  • How the villagers respond when Hester is first released with newborn Pearl
  • An end they find appropriate for Chillingworth, given the technology of the period
  • Noting period furnishings and constructions shown in the interpretation of the novel, such as the King David tapestry (discussed in the back matter of the volume) and the stocks used to display someone who has been found guilty of a social crime, draw or describe what would appear in place of these if the story were set in the current day.
  1. Design for a tattoo that would carry the weight today of what the cloth scarlet letter did in Hester and Arthur’s time

When using Manga Classics to scaffold student work with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s own text, consider expanding the story in more multi-modal directions, too:

Film adaptations of The Scarlet Letter are numerous and range across more than a century of movie-making. Contrast an early 20th century version with the Manga Classics version and then do the same with the most recent film version.